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Megan Woodhouse Needham

Chemical Engineering, Class of 2007
Full-time mother and patent attorney

"The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do." -- Walter Bagehot

My high school chemistry teacher was so amazing we called him "Dr. Weld" even though he didn't have a doctorate.  During my second semester in his class I decided that I wanted to study chemistry in college, but chemistry in and of itself didn't quite sound practical.  Chemical engineering though, now what could be more practical than engineering?  So it was settled.  I decided as a sophomore in high school to study chemical engineering.  It wasn't until two years later that I called one of my friends studying chemical engineering at Stanford and asked, "What is chemical engineering anyway?" 

I jumped right into the program as a freshman at BYU.  I loved it. I loved my little group of friends that made the trek each day from 8am Math 302 in the Talmadge building to our 9am engineering classes in the Clyde building.  I loved sitting in the step down lounge with literally my entire class to do homework.  I loved my close engineering girlfriends and all the guys who were brothers to me throughout the program.  I loved that my professors knew me personally and took an interest in me and my family.  I loved staying up until 2am...

Oh wait.  For all the things I loved and occassionally still dream about from my years studying chemical engineering at BYU, it was HARD.  Really really hard.  Chemical engineering meant late nights in the lab, some less than stellar test scores, and spending a summer term focusing solely on OChem so I would be able to really "get it."  It was the kind of hard that you don't always get rewarded for.  During my freshman year many of my friends from the dorms were invited to an academic success banquet for earning a 4.0 GPA during the Fall semester.  It stung not to be invited.  Not only because I was used to earning a 4.0 in high school, but also because I knew that a B or even a C in Math 302 was harder to achieve than an A in Bio 100.

I called my mom several times during my four years in the program to complain and cry.  During the Winter semester of my sophomore year I remember walking over to the Maeser Building to find out more about the Economics program.  I was convinced I should switch majors.  After all, even if I switched I could still graduate in Economics more quickly than I could graduate by sticking with Chemical Engineering.  But my mom talked me out of it.  She reminded me about the self-satisfaction and confidence I would carry with me for life by completing a program that was not only difficult, but seemingly impossible. She summed it up with, "You have to finish because years down the road when you are a mom and you are up all night changing poopy diapers, you will remember that you can do it because you did Chemical Engineering and you can do hard things."

And she was right.  She didn't mean to suggest by any means that girls should study chemical engineering so they can change poopy diapers.  Though now that my first child is two months old, her words have certainly come back to me.  What she meant, and what I have gained from my days in the Clyde Building, is that we can accomplish hard things, and by accomplishing hard things we build the confidence we need to accomplish other hard things.  

I always intended to go to law school instead of becoming a practicing engineer.  My wonderful experience interning in ExxonMobil's development company after my junior year almost convinced me to stick with an engineering career instead of pursuing my law school dream.  The internship was that good.  But I went to law school anyway.  And after a couple years of being a lawyer in New York, I became a mom.  I have one of my dream jobs now raising my son.  Down the road I hope to teach.  As women we are lucky.  We may need to provide for ourselves and our families, it's true, but more often than not we have a degree of flexibility that men often do not have.  We can pursue education and careers that may or may not be very lucrative.  We can take a break from the work force to raise children, or we can go part time, or we can decide to establish our careers before having children.  We can even decide not to have children.  I encourage all women to pursue their dreams and live life to the fullest.  Sometimes in pursuing our dreams we find ourselves calling home in tears because we think we cannot do it.  Anything worth doing will likely cause us to shed a few tears.  But when we work at it and conquer our challenges we earn a reward no one can ever take away.